The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted Africa´s vulnerability due to its reliance on imports for most vaccines, medicines, and other health product needs. The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) estimates that Africa imports about 94% of its pharmaceutical and medicinal needs from outside the continent at an annual cost of USD16-billion.
High-level representatives of governments, development finance institutions and UN agencies, together with representatives of the private sector, non-governmental organisations, and academia, met virtually on the margins of the 76th UN General Assembly to explore innovative solutions to the systemic barriers hindering development of the continent´s health industries and to discuss ways to strengthen Africa’s pharmaceutical industry.
The event was organised by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), the African Union Commission (AUC), the African Development Bank (AfDB), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), AfroChampions, the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD), the United Nations Office of the Special Adviser on Africa (OSAA) and the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank). The event took place in the framework of the Third Industrial Development Decade for Africa (IDDA III).
In his opening remarks, LI Yong, Director General of UNIDO, said, “The African Continental Free Trade Area provides opportunities for the development of a continental health industry, while we need to continue to harness the strengths of different stakeholders and put in place robust partnerships.”
In a video message, Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the UN, stressed the importance of IDDA III and noted that inclusive and sustainable industrial development is critical for achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in Africa.
In his video message, Gerd Müller, Germany’s Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, emphasised that three billion Covid-19 vaccines have been produced worldwide and need to be distributed fairly. He further mentioned that “Germany is supporting COVAX and the Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator but also investing in cooperation with countries like South Africa, Senegal and Ghana to establish their own vaccine production facilities.”
Noting that investment is crucial for the promotion of local pharmaceuticals manufacturing in the continent, Vera Songwe, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of UNECA, acknowledged the lack of adequate funding within Africa as one of the continent’s enduring challenges.
Cristina Duarte, Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Africa to the United Nations Secretary-General, opined that the coronavirus offers an opportunity for Africa to change its paradigm from being heavily dependent on imports to being self-reliant.
Ambassador Albert M. Muchanga, the African Union Commissioner for Economic Development, Trade, Industry and Mining, remarked that the IDDA III framework is crucial in supporting Africa meet its pharmaceutical needs and achieving the goals set in the Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Plan for Africa (PMPA).
On behalf of Akinwumi Adesina, AfDB President, Dr Abdu Mukhtar said that support from development financial institutions together with the private sector is crucial in supporting Africa’s industrial and sustainable development and countries need to be supported to expand their fiscal space during the ongoing pandemic.
Speaking on behalf of Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, AUDA-NEPAD’s CEO, Jennifer Chiriga noted that development partners need to actively promote human resource capacity and knowledge for the pharmaceutical manufacturing sector which requires highly skilled personnel.
AfroChampions Co-Chair, Paulo Gomez, remarked that public-private partnerships need to be strengthened to promote structural transformation on the continent.
Martin Seychell, Deputy Director General for International Partnerships at the European Commission, remarked that the European Union’s EUR1-billion Team Europe initiative on manufacturing and access to vaccines, medicines, and health technologies in Africa, will help create an enabling environment for local vaccines manufacturing in the continent and tackle barriers on both supply and demand sides.
Prof. Stanley Okolo, Director General of the West African Health Organisation, stressed that the pandemic presents the opportunity to reflect on the continuing challenges Africa continues to face in trying to improve the health of its population. “Governments and stakeholders must therefore resolve to strengthen national health systems and ensure that vaccines are readily available for the population”, he highlighted.
In her contribution to the first session, the President of Ethiopia, Her Excellency Sahle-Work Zewde emphasised the support of her government for the implementation of the Decade and reaffirmed the crucial role of local manufacturing in its development efforts.
Speaking on behalf of His Excellency Uhuru Kenyatta, President of Kenya, Her Excellency Betty Maina, Cabinet Secretary of the Ministry of Industrialisation, Trade and Enterprise Development opined that “to rebuild the health sector and boost the economy requires strong partnerships such as the PCP initiative, to lock in the investments and the FDI that will facilitate economies to bounce back to pre-pandemic levels”.
His Excellency Zely Randriamanantany, Minister of Public Health, touched on the importance of the continent’s demographic growth and the need to enhance the industrial skills and knowledge of the bulging youth population, in his statement on behalf of His Excellency Andry Rajoelina, President of Madagascar.
All speakers agreed that market consolidation, strong regulatory oversight, investments in the pharmaceutical sector and new technology (4IR) are of utmost importance to unlock Africa’s full manufacturing potential. The event was capped by a signing ceremony of the Joint Declaration for the implementation of the Kenya Self-Starter Programme for Country Partnership, between the UNIDO DG and President Kenyatta.
In conclusion, participants acknowledged the need to expedite and support local production of pharmaceuticals and the health industry in Africa, as well as the importance of IDDA III and other frameworks such as the AfCFTA, and their potential impact to boost the manufacturing and trading of pharmaceuticals on the continent. They also called for inclusive and solution-oriented approaches to the challenges presented by Covid-19.